Pointers on Cowshed Design - particularly Herringbones

Having been involved in the dairy industry my whole life, including running my own dairy farm, I thought it pertinent to cover some of the issues and pitfalls around cowshed design. But more than that, I have also assisted in financing many, many dairy conversions and cowshed renovations, and feel that some design matters need to be discussed.


Location is the key to any cowshed. I believe that it is cheaper to have the tanker carry the milk off the farm than to walk the cows to a site near the road.
The cowshed site needs to be slightly elevated so there is maximum natural drainage for effluent disposal etc.

The cows like walking slightly uphill so a yard that slopes uphill with a milking area that also slopes uphill is an advantage and cow flow is improved.
However, there needs to be plenty of flat land surrounding the shed for calf rearing and so on.


Try to bring the cows in and turn them round before they enter the yard so they are facing straight down the yard, looking out the shed and down the farm. This also gives better cow flow.


The concrete should not be too smooth. Apparently there is a concrete made from river stone which is very smooth and the cows slip over on it. You can get crushed concrete rock which has a sharper surface and cows tend not to slip.

An area where cows do fall is at the end of the head bail. This happens when the farmer jumps out of the pit to draft cows.

Water and Effluent

Water and effluent flows better below the concrete in 50mm pipes than it does being washed over the surface of concrete. If you have a large yard and milking platform put some infrastructure below the concrete to carry the effluent away quickly in pipes.

Stray Shocks

All reinforcing mesh should be welded and connected to all steel structures so as to properly earth out the shed.


You need easy access to the milk room from the pit.

You need good long cow guides into the shed. If you have the breast rail extended well out into the yard then the cows that are following hold the cows that are being milked in place. It makes milking easier because there is no need to get up and put the chain around the last cow in each row.

Race Access and Egress

I believe you should have a wide race into the back of the yard and a wide race leaving so there is plenty of room.

Exit Strategy

Plenty of room is required for exit. The cows need to be drafted from the pit easily and avoid bunching.


Cows are probably not keen to enter the cowshed if you have everything happening at the same point. That is to say the roof stopping and the bail starting may be a hindrance. If you have the roof out over the yard entrance by say 2 metres, it makes it much easier for the cows. They don't seem to want to walk from the daylight into the dark, and into the bail all at the same moment.

Fast Wash Yard

There are a lot of systems available today to wash down the yard quickly and I think that is important. It is also important to have quick drainage where the cows do most of their dung and urine. This is just before they enter the cowshed bail area. At that point you need to have some form of central drainage system to take it away under the concrete.


From the pit you need good access and egress for the team. It needs to be wide enough with adequate light so as to prevent your staff from tripping over. The steps need to be to regulation and non-slip also. Easy grab handrails should be in place just in case somebody was to slip.

Rubber matting in the pit can save a lot of wear and tear on knees and hips later in life.


Fall in the milk room, the pit, the milking parlour area and in the yard is crucial. It needs to be right and not be too steep, but particularly it should not be too flat which makes hosing slow and difficult and encourage corrosion etc.

Round Yard versus Square

This is a point of contention. Round yards tend to be common in the Waikato. Square yards tend to be more common in the Rotorua area and in much of the South Island.

A few years ago, some Australian researchers came to New Zealand and sat on the roofs of existing cowsheds. They studied cow flow and kept records. I was fortunate enough to meet the person doing the study.

It was conclusive that square yards were better than round yards for a number of reasons. Those reasons include the fact that the cow tends to walk in a straight line. When you enter a cow into a round yard she's never sure where she's going until she actually gets to the milking area. More than that, there is a lot of bunching and pushing in round yards, whereas there is a lot less in a square yard.

Backing gates in square yards can sometimes be problematical. There are some very simple systems however. They basically use an electrified aluminium pole s uspended on two wires, across the yard.

Waste Water and Detergent Water

It is important not to wash the waste water and detergent water across your concrete all the time. The acids rapidly eat the concrete. It is better to have a collection point and again take it down into your PVC piping and drain it away below the concrete level.
A collection point should also be under the tap on the vat stand to stop wash water going across the concrete all the time.
A number of sheds now have the waste water from the milk room and vat stand area, milk room and vat stand waste running into the pit so that if there is anything not working you can see the milk. This is good but that water needs to be near the waste water from the pit so you don't have milk and acid detergents flowing across the pit floor all the time.


Installation of some luxuries such as ceiling fans and good radio systems is a big help on any dairy farm. Ceiling fans keep the flies away and keep the staff cool in the summer. It shows you care about your staff as well.

Lunch Room

This is important. I have visited a dairy farm in Pahiatua where a lunch room was beside the cowshed. Breakfast was at the cowshed with bacon and eggs cooked on the barbecue outside and tea and coffee served to the staff. Suppliers arrived for breakfast as well and brought their own food. It was a wonderful set up. The farming magazines are kept in the lunch room. There is also now a computer installed for herd records. What this has also done for the family is taken all the business off the kitchen table and down to the cowshed, where it belongs.
This takes mess and stress out of the home and down to the shed where it belongs. The staff can also have meetings and a place to talk, so I believe there are less staffing issues in this kind of situation.
I think having a set-up lunchroom like the above example is a massive improvement and if I was still dairying it is something I would do immediately to my shed.

Data Recording

This is going to happen eventually and I think provision needs to be made in the construction of new cowsheds for it. That is, even if you don't install it at the time.

Concrete Apron

You need a concrete apron for the tanker to meet current regulations.

These are some of the issues around cowshed construction for herringbone cowsheds and many of the philosophies also apply to rotary. You need to plan for the future and build a cowshed that can be extended later if needed. It costs very little to build a longer cowshed roof, or a longer pit when you do it the first time. At least think about it and make sure you plan enough room. It is imperative to get it right the first time and to take adequate advice.
There are a lot of simple labour saving systems which I believe should be installed.

With regard to buying existing second-hand cowsheds and relocating them, this can be very cost effective. You need to ensure you have adequate plans for the existing shed and good plans for the relocation so that you can easily relocate the shed. It can be expensive to comply with standards and there is a lot more welding involved where things have to be cut off at and adapted. Some bankers advise that cowshed relocation is expensive and not advisable.
Notwithstanding that, there have been some very successful relocations of existing cowsheds.

In summary, these are just some of the pointers in good cowshed design. To my dismay I continue to see poorly planned sheds giving expensive problems. Look for experienced people; make sure there is adequate planning and attention to detail. You need to get it right the first time, and not have to go back to fix it all again and again. Make the shed cow friendly and people friendly: then the results must be good for all concerned.


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